Sunday, August 26, 2007

Faulty eyewitness procedures threatened innocent Galveston man

How do innocent people get caught up in the legal system? Sometimes it's because police and prosecutors ignore potentially exculpatory evidence or don't hand it over to the defendant. And sometimes it's because police use outdated investigative techniques that increase the chance they (or a witness) will make a mistake.

Both happened in Galveston recently to Aundre Parish, a man falsely accused of committing a sexual assault. In fact, he'd been working on an offshore oil rig at the time and police had obtained records (that they did not share with the defendant) that proved Parish's whereabouts.

Then in April, DNA evidence also cleared Parish as a suspect, but still he remained in jail. (He has fired his original attorney for not immediately seeking his release when the DNA results came in.) Indeed, as of Friday Parish's case was still set for trial in October, though prosecutors indicated to the Daily News they're likely to dismiss it

So this poor fellow can prove he was on an offshore oil rig when the attack occurred, and DNA at the scene wasn't his - how could officials keep Mr. Parish locked up? Perhaps a better question: Why would they? Every day they fiddle around with him, the real rapist remains on the loose.

As it turns out, the wrongful accusations against Parish stem from faulty victim eyewitness testimony. Police used outdated photo array techniques that experts say contribute to wrongful convictions. Reported the Daily News ("Records don't free innocent man," Aug. 26):
Police detective Sgt. Joel Caldwell showed the woman a lineup of six photographs days after the attack, when the woman was “in a great deal of pain and was under the influence of heavy pain killers,” according to Caldwell’s report on the investigation.

Days later, on Jan. 9, Caldwell again showed the woman the lineup, as she “was much more lucid and alert,” the report states.

This time, she looked at the pictures for minutes before “she began to shake and then stated, ‘My God, that’s him,’” pointing out Parish.

Parish’s picture had made it onto the picture lineup because the woman had originally said her attacker had a tattoo reading “Sweet Pea” on his neck.

“Sweet Pea” was Parish’s childhood nickname. However, the only tattoos on his neck contained the names of his mother and grandmother, neither of whom was known as “Sweet Pea.”
So let's walk through this. Officers showed the woman the photo array the first time and she did not identify Parish nor anyone else. Then several days later they show it to her again and she says she recognizes Parish (whose picture she was shown on the day of her attack), but his physical appearance does not match her very specific description (a tattoo of "Sweet Pea" on his neck).

Three pieces of evidence - his work logs, DNA, and the fact that his tattoo didn't match the witness' description - should have told any reasonable investigator that Parish didn't commit this crime. Aundre Parish spent months in jail accused of a rape he didn't commit for two reasons: Faulty eyewitness identification procedures encouraged a victim to falsely accuse him, then the justice system took the word of the eyewitness - the victim, in this case - over hard evidence in their possession that contradicted her word.

Faulty eyewitness testimony is the leading national cause of wrongful convictions, and researchers have developed evidence-based best practices for lineups and witness identification procedures that few if any Texas departments presently follow.

The Texas Senate this year approved legislation to establish a panel to recommend statewide best practices for eyewitness identification procedures, and also an Innocence Commission to more comprehensively address the causes of wrongful convictions and to investigate possible innocence cases. But both bills died in the House, at the end of the day, because of a lack of enthusiasm by House leadership and opposition from the prosecutors' association.

Parish's case shows that eyewitness procedures don't just need to be studied, they need to be reformed as soon as possible.
I'd suggested earlier that reforming eyewitness identification procedures would make a good, important, "interim study" for some Texas legislative committee, and I still hope somebody steps up to the plate.

What was wrong with the lineup that resulted in the false identification of Mr. Parish? For starters, witnesses shouldn't be shown the same photo twice. Of course she'd seen Parish before - police previously showed her his picture while she was medicated and groggy.

And who were the others in the lineup? Were they non-suspects, as a best-practices model would dictate, or were the others possible suspects, too, so that anyone she picked was a "winner"?

The best research on this topic indicates sequential lineups are more accurate than "arrays," because the witness has a chance to say yes or no on each person, while the array makes them think "it's one of them" and try to pick the one that looks most like what they remember.

Parish's case reminds me of the three-legged, one-eyed dog named "Lucky." For someone who went through such an ordeal, Mr. Parish was "lucky." How many of us could prove we were physically inaccessible - with helicopter flight logs and time sheets to prove it - for every single day? I sure couldn't. What's more, he's "lucky" there was DNA evidence from the attacker to test against - if there hadn't been, it could just be her word against his.

Even with this pile of exculpatory evidence, prosecutors still kept Parish locked up months. They simply believed the victim's word over his, despite the plain facts before them. Anyone who thinks only Dallas has a problem with convicting innocent people, or that the problems causing innocent people to wind up in Texas prisons have been solved, has another think coming. Police and prosecutors could easily have railroaded Aundre Parish into a conviction.


Anonymous said...

Prosecutors can and will railroad anyone anytime. There should be big consequences for the errors committed by prosecutors.

The defense of "I didn't do it on purpose." just cannot be defended against. Prosecutors have entirely too much power to obtain a conviction regardless of the facts.

Williamson county is a perfect example! Justice in Texas is for the rich and the courts don't do anything to protect innocent people.

Anonymous said...

what's the county seat and/or big towns in williamson county? i want to stay away from there?

Anonymous said...

They need to jail their asses. This guy's gonna be a millionaire.

Anonymous said...

Go to almost any prison in the Texas system and can find one (if not more) who will tell you his story about how he was railroaded for a crime he didn't commit. Usually it is a sex crime. The sentences are long and lives are destroyed without anyone blinking an eye.

A prime example would be a young man convicted in Potter County (Amarillo) to life for aggravated sexual assault of a child. No DNA because the cop who slowly drove to the scene didn't know he should get DNA, convicted on the word only of well coached child and a scorned woman under the influence of drugs and alcohol, plus a prosecutor up for election who readily gave his "expert" testimony to a jury without the judge stopping him, and a court appointed attorney who could not get him off without risking his upcoming bid for judgeship. The court appointed attorney did not meet with him personally nor would he allow him to testify in his own defense which would have clearly revealed the childs motive for making the accusation. Add to that mess a Court of Appeals that just rubber stamps a big no and you have the life of a ruined man rotting in a Texas prison for a crime he didn't commit.

Now try to find an attorney who will help appeal this travesty of justice for a price normal people can afford and this young man continues to rot inside a prison in Texas.

IF you want justice in this state it comes at a price that few can afford. The name isn't O.J. or Kennedy (Smith) and the attorney wasn't Race Horse Hanes or Cochran. Nope, this kid had crap for representation, a voter motivated prosecutor and quite obviously a judge who wasn't even paying attention. It is called Texas justice.

If you are accused of a sex crime in Texas DO NOT TALK WITH ANYONE WITHOUT A REPUTABLE ATTORNEY AT YOUR SIDE. Do not offer to do a lie detector test, do not try to explain, do not think you will get a fair trial, and expect your life to be destroyed if you don't follow all of the above advice. If you are a man in this state you are subject to conviction without evidence and you should be scared... be very scared.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like he had a REALLY shitty lawyer. When he starts suing people his first attorney should be on the list

Anonymous said...

The prosecutors here should be ashamed of themselves. Absolutely ashamed. Remember, the prosecutor's job is to do justice. Perhaps, this story ought to be brought to the attention of the bar authorities. Just ask Mike Nifong, lol.

Anonymous said...

Interesting aspect of this blog: the response of most comments will be to the horror story of a wrongfully convicted man. (having the experience of such in TYC, I suspect 6:45's is right). Until we get an Appeals Court or a Texas Supreme Court that rights that we can depend on, shit will continue to happen. I would suggest a change to appointed judges, but with Alberto Gonzales now available for a job that is clearly not the answer. Whether it is TYC, death sentences, snitches or selling out to special interests, Texas has to change. Can somebody please come up with a means we can finacially reward integrity and make the lack of it a receipe for permanent poverty... I suspect that is the first step.

Anonymous said...

It's not just Texas. The entire justice system in this country is a joke.

Michael said...

I'm glad that some media story has given us the name of at least one of the police personnel responsible for this case of malicious prosecution. What I'm wondering is this: The next time I drive down I-45 to Galveston, am I going to see Sergeant Caldwell nailed to a cross next to the seawall, which is a fate better than he deserves? Or is he still at work, bungling more investigations? And what bastard in the DA's office refused to turn over the conclusive exculpatory evidence to the defendant? A bastard who presumably took the lawyer's oath when he was licensed, and the prosecutor's oath when he got his job, before violating both of them for the sake of getting a conviction? Why do DA's offices end up attracting such scum? This guy needs to be defending insurance companies for screwing their customers, not prosecuting innocent people for crimes they didn't commit.

Anonymous said...

A couple of weeks ago I had arrived at a club and watched an older guy get hauled off by the Round Rock police for assault based on eye witness lies. He was attacked with pepper spray by a suspended security guard working at JOY illegally in Round Rock Texas. The older man would not take a taxi, the security guard chased him down and pepper sprayed him in the parking lot as he was leaving. The older guys truck then hit a stone wall. The older guy got out and told the idiot security person he was going to sue him for what he just did and wrecking his truck. This security man leaves and comes back with some people and tells them that, that is the man that tried to run me down. Believing what he was saying they agreed to help. When the Round Rock police arrived they talked to all of them as a group, they all said the same thing based on what they were told, not what they saw. This left the older guy hanging with nothing but telling the cops what actually honestly happened. The cops refused to believe him. The guy was disabled and had no support. It was the sorriest thing I had ever seen. I was ashamed and decided to leave rather than entertain myself in that place. I told the cop as I left, this was a BS set up, that old guy did nothing wrong he was the one attacked. The cop said I have my statements do you have a problem with them. I said no just with you and drove off. I later called RRPD and explained what I saw happen. I hope that man was released.